HI, FRIENDS. CLOSED FOR A FEW DAYS. EMAIL US WITH WINE QUESTIONS, WE'LL HELP YOU FIND THE BEST NATTY FOR WHEN WE'RE BACK. HI, FRIENDS. CLOSED FOR A FEW DAYS. EMAIL US WITH WINE QUESTIONS, WE'LL HELP YOU FIND THE BEST NATTY FOR WHEN WE'RE BACK.

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Fermentation is Life, Life is Fermentation

Fermentation is Life, Life is Fermentation

Since the beginning of the pandemic, my kitchen has slowly been converted into a fermentation lab. I have two different sourdough starters, acetobacter fermented pickles, Koji mold rice, and, most recently, I got into making Jun (a type of Kombucha). Jun is the one fermented product that I find the most interesting. In order for Jun to become sparkling, the fermentation has to finish in the bottle under a crown cap. Because of the closed environment, that lovely byproduct of fermentation, CO2, is forced into the liquid and it becomes bubbles.

Microorganisms are just like us in many ways, they are alive. They eat, drink, inhale oxygen, and exhale carbon dioxide. Fermentation in the bottle is life under pressure, and it's what gives us bubbles.

Next time you enjoy a glass of fizzy goodness, be it pet nat, other sparkling wine, or kombucha, remember, it has bubbles because the yeast was forced to stay inside too.

- Vitalii Dascaliuc

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Ritual, Celebration, Alcohol

Ritual, Celebration, Alcohol

I've been thinking a lot recently about rituals. As humans, we perform rituals because they help us structure and control our inherently chaotic existence and confront the illusion of time. We make coffee at 7:05am every morning, we purge our closets when spring arrives, we always read the Style section first on Thursdays. 

Celebrations are built upon ritual. My older son, Nat, is going to turn five years old in a few weeks. He's at that age where birthdays take on supreme significance. He's been looking forward to his birthday for six months now. About two months ago, he started telling me, "Dad, Coronavirus will definitely be done by the time it's my birthday." And then a few weeks ago, it changed to, "Dad, I think it will be okay if I can't have a big party with my friends, as long as we celebrate at home and I still get a Nerf blaster."

The other day at our house, we saw our next door neighbors outside playing a game with their kids and one other family. They were all wearing the same color. Nat stood at the window watching intently, not saying a word (which never, ever happens) as the small party pinned tails on paper dinosaurs and ate cupcakes and danced. He seemed shaken, pensive, but also oddly accepting, despite the fact that he hasn't seen a friend in person in almost three months. That acceptance was crushing. Eventually Nat walked away from the window and quietly sat down to dinner. We realized it was the neighbor's eldest son's fifth birthday that day.

Alcohol and ritual go hand in hand. Champagne toasts at weddings, beers after a long bike ride, whiskey shots on birthdays, bottles emptied onto the street for lost friends. Business deals and Roman sacrifices alike revolve around the presence of alcohol.

One thing that we've been focused on learning more about recently is sake. I'll readily admit that sake is the area of beverage that I know the least about. It's always intimidated me somewhat. The other week, I was having a discussion with Lane Harlan of Baltimore's Fadensonnen, a beautiful natural wine and sake bar, and she touched upon the value of serving rituals for sake. Lane explained how, from ceramic drinkware to how it's poured to careful manipulation of temperature, ritual is closely tied to the sensory experience of sake. That ritual is likely much of the reason for my intimidation.

And below we're lucky to have Monica Samuels, one of the world's leading sake experts, writing about the confluence of Japanese sake and natural wine. She picks out a few sakes to help guide any natural wine drinkers, like us, who may be newer to the experience.

One of the many things we've lost because of COVID-19 is ritual, especially the ritual of celebration. There are no weddings, bars, or funerals. But we have a chance to find some new, slower rituals these days. At our house, we'll be having "corn-a-macob" and steak for Nat's birthday, at his request.  Because a June birthday also means the beginning of summer, and all of the rituals that that entails. Hopefully we'll carry some of these smaller rituals with us when the old ones come back too. 

-Jeff Segal

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Five From Lugo

Five From Lugo

It somehow happened that this week's newsletter is focused entirely on women: Gina, mothers, Sefika. And we wanted to keep the trend going with Meri Lugo. Meri is the GM at Little Serow, my neighbor, and a woman of great taste (and kindness). We asked her to make another list to keep us out of the vicious hamster wheel of mass media.

Jeff's wife, Julia (another badass woman), described Phoebe's list from the other week as the smartest thing we've ever put in the newsletter. Hope you enjoy another copy and paste situation from a brilliant woman.

  1. I don’t know when we’ll all be able to revel in live music again, so I find myself returning to T-Pain’s legendary and surprising Tiny Desk Concert from 2014 -- he imbues his club bangers with vulnerability and humor.
  2. I’ve been trying to wean myself off Amazon purchases for a while, and it seems more prudent than ever to support smaller vendors. This is one sobering reminder why.
  3.  It’s hard to not fall prey to the endless Instagram scroll, but I always delight when I happen upon a Kate Baer poem. She’s able to tap into what it’s like to be a woman, a girl, a mother --  a human being. Her new book of poems comes out in November and I can’t wait.
  4. When I don’t have the wherewithal to read, but can’t bear to listen to anymore news-based podcasts, I’ve been turning to Phoebe Reads A Mystery. Phoebe Judge, from the excellent Criminal podcast, reads a chapter per episode of classic mystery novels – Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes and such. Her voice keeps me company while I do the seemingly interminable dishes. 
  5. If I’m going to lose half a day falling down a Youtube wormhole, I can’t think of a better world to get lost in than Li Ziqi’s. The NYT’s amazing Tejal Rao just penned her own quarantine-inspired ode to the Chinese Youtube star, who grows, forages, preserves, and ferments her own food in an idyllic countryside farm. The sparse music and lush scenery feel positively escapist to this apartment-dweller.  
^thank you Meri! (other words by Rebekah Pineda)

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Finding Meaning In Wine

Finding Meaning In Wine

Does wine matter at all? I mean that seriously, not as a bullshit rhetorical opening. That question has pulled at me, skimming the surface of my consciousness, for the past 15 years. In many ways, I've devoted my life to it. Wine has taken my money, commandeered my memories, dictated my friendships, and monopolized my attention ever since this one night where I scribbled out a tasting note on a napkin at a little wine bar in New York.

But it's easy to think that wine is meaningless. It many ways, it is. It's something that washes down meals, it gets you drunk, it's what happens when a bunch of grapes sit in a container for a while and start to fall apart. It's a beverage. And that's what I think about when I question why I've devoted my life to a beverage. 

The past few weeks have been incredibly difficult. My friends are hiding out with their families wearing masks, learning how to homeschool their kids, and registering for unemployment benefits. We may be undergoing a period of societal change (less gathering, less restaurants, more individualism, more social unrest) that could last for a long time. And that's led me to question wine and its meaning again.

Here's where I've ended up, at least for right now: I don't know that wine has to have meaning. Maybe it just is. I love it, I love the people who make it, I love the people who sell and champion it, and I love that other people love it like I do. And maybe during times like this, that love is enough.

- Jeff Segal

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Will Natural Wine Survive The Tariffs?

Will Natural Wine Survive The Tariffs?

There's been plenty of ink spilled about natural wine's demise in recent months, most notably Alice Fiering's poetic piece in the newspaper of record. And while the vast majority of the world has never heard of natural wine and even most wine drinkers still have no idea what it is, there's certainly danger to natural wine being posed by corporate giants co-opting the term and not its ethos. 

But there's a much bigger threat to natural wine right now and that's the tariffs set to go into effect next month, which could essentially double the price of all European wines. The natural wine world is up in arms about this right now (at least on Instagram), which makes sense. Entry price points for natural wine are already steep AF. There's essentially nothing available below $15, which could soon become $30. The market of consumers looking to spend $30 on a single-use item in a category new to them is probably quite small. And the beautiful heart of natural wine, the $20-$35 bottles from places like the Loire Valley and Beaujolais and Sicily and Rias Baixas, could become legitimate luxury items. One of the core ideals of natural wine is that real wine should be drunk by regular people. That's hard to uphold when pet nat costs $60 a bottle.

But natural wine will survive the tariffs precisely because of that ideal. The only way to keep US demand for these wines from becoming a flatline (yes, Overnoy and Rougeard buyers, we know you'll keep buying) will be through cooperation between producers, importers, and retailers/restaurants. Producers will need to work with importers to keep prices in line and not just turn around and sell all their wines to the UK, Sweden, Japan, and [insert hot natty wine market here]. Importers, who will likely be the hardest hit by the tariffs, will need to slim down and get creative and focus on relationships. And retailers and restaurants will need to rethink buying and pricing to make sure their customers don't feel like something they love was suddenly stripped away.

But that cooperation will happen (and already is) because natural wine still operates as a human to human business. Conventional, industrial wine producers, importers, and buyers don't have the flexibility to lean on relationships. For better or worse, they are businesses built on maintaining bottom lines. And for those corporate giants that have ventured into natural wine, this all should serve to triage the MOG. We're having phone calls every day with our importers and producers to work together to keep the containers moving and it's all because we share a common vision.

But that doesn't mean that things will stay the same. For a brief moment, let's appreciate the fact that we've been able to drink incredible, unique wines from around the world made by real people at price points that many can afford. And while the golden age of real, honest wine may be ending next month, we're all going to work together to duct tape this shit until some saner policies come into place.

- Jeff Segal

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ROSÉ SEASON IS DEAD

ROSÉ SEASON IS DEAD

The temperatures are waning and the days are shortening, signaling the end of rosé wine being e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. The masses now quaff the refreshing pink drink as if engaging in a summertime rite of passage. That’s in sharp contrast to a few years ago, when serious people would laugh in my face if I suggested a pink wine to them. While it’s tempting to think rosé is now held in equal esteem, I’d argue all the people posting poolside “rosé season” shots aren’t helping any. Rather than being properly regarded as dynamic and diverse, this style of wine has been relegated to warm weather and buzzy articles about how to make [fill in the blank] from the same direct press, barely colored bottle.

Such homogenous drinking is an incredible bore. So, let’s spread the love to other months of the year and extend our interest to darker rosés from around the world! You haven’t truly lived until you’ve paired a rich cassoulet with Domaine Léonine’s ‘Que Pasa?’ Syrah rosé in the middle of December. A winter trip to the Dolomites would be severely lacking without the combination of Pizzoccheri and Marco Zani’s Lagrein rosé, whose shade is reminiscent of Pantone 199. These deeper hued wines paired with hearty meals will have you indoors with the heat blasting in your underwear wondering why you didn’t think of this before. Support the vigneron(ne) year-round and enjoy the gifts they’ve produced for us.

The death of Rosé Season will be best for all of us.

- Eric Moorer

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“No, Donny, these men are nihilists. There's nothing to be afraid of.”

“No, Donny, these men are nihilists. There's nothing to be afraid of.”

The other week, my friend opened a culty sans soufre Chenin that wasn’t showing very well. He swore he’d opened the same bottle a few weeks prior and that it was stunning. But around the table we agreed this bottle was ratchet.

Yes, that can be part of the deal with drinking wines that are not industrial and manipulated. The stakes are a bit lower when it comes to modest glou glou. But we shouldn’t be surprised when #hypebeast natural wines, with prices looking like classified growth Bordeaux, are at times fragile. And, if we’re being honest, are not always more compelling than the glou glou.

In the 90s, Robert Parker rose to unprecedented influence in the American wine market. Wineries all over the world started manipulating their wines to conform to his palette, so they all started tasting the same (as Alice Feiring and many others have written about). The “natural wine movement” has been the inevitable, opposing pendulum swing; a necessary market correction, which by now has probably reached its grunge in late 92 VOGUE moment.

Much of the press on this movement has fixated on the lack of defined terms and standards but that line of interrogation is flawed. Making concessions to the technocrats obsessed with empirical measurements and certifications empowers them to decree the “acceptable” interventions in farming and the cellar. That leads to formulaic, ideological winemaking, leaving no room for interpretation or adaptation to regional climate and varietal character. Is evaluating a wine based on the parts per million of added S02 any less ludicrous than Robert Parker’s 100 point rating system? What happens if wines, made from vastly different grapes and regions, start to taste “wild” and “funky” in all the same ways and that becomes the defining characteristic of these wines? Does 0/0 = 100 points?

There was no social media in Parker’s day but today’s wine journalists may prove just as influential, incentivizing natural winemakers to stylize their wines to conform. A healthy skepticism of influence and uniformity is always in order.
(*I put together some visual aids on this phenomenon, see here)


- Saman Housseini

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Residual Sugar: An Ode to Thee

Residual Sugar: An Ode to Thee

“Nothing sweet for me.” Nothing? Really? No late harvests, all ripe and lush? No demi-sec? No Moscato? No partial ferments? 

I don’t understand you. 

What is it about that tongue coating goodness that disappoints you? What makes you frown and push your glass away in disgust? 

Granted, I get an aversion to dessert wines with savory food. I’ve poured a glass of syrupy, sweet wine (on accident...) to enjoy with a meal. It overwhelms the palate and suppresses, rather than uplifts, flavor. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking in subtleties, like hints of honey and flora on the finish of an otherwise dry wine. Light sweetness balanced with bright acid and lush fruit. 

“It’s all in the pairing,” I say. ‘RS,’ as we affectionately abbreviate ‘residual sugar,’ is a spice and fat-loving foodies best friend. Spicy Thai with Auslese Riesling, demi-sec sparkling with foie mousse or rich cheeses, juicy, fried hot chicken with late harvest Chenin. These are the pairings I dream about. Balanced with brightness, oft-misunderstood, I will forever fight to show the world that ‘RS’ does not equal ‘dessert.’ 

Still not convinced? Great, more for me! 

- Casey Wrath

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If Winemaking Were Star Wars...

If Winemaking Were Star Wars...

Dark forces abound. 

Okay, truth be told, I’m no Star Wars expert, but conventional winemaking can get pretty shady. While reputable AOCs can mandate winemaking practices from vine spacing and yields to aging and final alcohol levels, chemical additives are still largely unregulated - and there are many! Here's a brief overview so you can know what you're not drinking when you shop at Domestique.

The most well-known additive is Sulfur Dioxide, used to stabilize and preserve wines at bottling. Sulfur often gets a bad rap - under 50 ppm and you’re sitting pretty; the wine is stable in bottle and there are no negative health impacts. However, industrial wines tend to add three times that amount at bottling, up to 150 ppm! And consuming excess sulfur dioxide can cause flushing, hives, and even digestive problems (aka 💩). 

In the US, sulfites are the only additive that you’re required to disclose on a label. Curious what else could be lurking in that grocery store bottle of vino? All of these are common additives used in commercial winemaking:

* Ammonium Sulfite - another stabilizer/casual neurotoxin that is known to cause nausea and vomiting.
* Commercial Yeast - creates a uniform and superficial flavor. Also known to contribute to headaches. 
* Sugar - we’re talking pallets of Domino, people. Added sugar helps boost the final alcohol content if grapes weren’t able to fully ripen. That’s why good wine starts in the vineyard. Also known to contribute to that pesky hangover.
* Mycotoxins - additives used elsewhere to dissolve plastics. In winemaking, they’re used to clarify cloudy wines. News flash! "Clear" wine has nothing to do with taste and everything to do with aesthetic. 
* Fungicides - this is common with any agricultural product not organically farmed.
* Arsenic??? (Actually)
* Mega-Purple & Ultra-Red - concentrated grape juice syrup used to add sugar and color to a wine. If you’re drinking red wine and your teeth start to stain after a single glass, you can bet one of these dyes has been added. These are often used to boost the perception of quality.
* Gelatin, Animal Byproducts, and Eggs - all used as clarifying agents.

The good news? Natural, organic, and biodynamic wines eschew nasty additives to produce seasonal, terroir-driven wines that are reflective of the hands that made them. 

As a minimum requirement, all the wines at Domestique are organically grown, fermented with wild yeasts, and bottled with minimal sulfur if any, so you can knock back a glass (or three) and feel pretty dang good about it.


- Casey Wrath

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